Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, September 15, 1999

Holding schools to
higher standards

WE have always measured ourselves by the time it takes for trends to reach us.

Now on a straight course for Hawaii is the latest in education trends: measuring schools with more rigorous standards, hiring better teachers and then holding schools and teachers accountable.

Here's a look at how some school districts on the mainland are dealing with schools that have not succeeded.

In Minnesota, for instance, the St. Paul school board put 11 schools on academic probation this year. It was part of a new superintendent's accountability plan. All of the city's schools were evaluated based on past performance on standardized tests.

Two years ago in Minneapolis, the school district replaced the principal and half the teachers at one troubled elementary school.

In Florida, according to a report from the St. Petersburg Times, "the state will assign a letter grade -- A through F -- to each school based on its students' test scores.

"A school that receives an F two years in a row must allow students to transfer to private schools, taking tax dollars with them."

Another version of this academic tough-love approach is being tried in New York City, where the chancellor of education, hired in 1995, has closed 13 academically troubled schools this year.

The schools were considered to be so poor that the only solution is to replace them with other schools or start from scratch. According to the teacher's contract, when a school is shut, if a new school opens in a building that has been shut, half the positions in the new school must be reserved for teachers from the old school. If there is no new school opening, the teachers transfer to other schools.

Chancellor Rudy Crew responded to the low scores by promising to fire superintendents and principals and proposing a much tougher promotion policy that could hold back tens of thousands of flunking students who would be moved forward under the current policy.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported earlier this year "what officials called a painful but necessary step toward revamping the troubled district."

The district fired 14 school principals and told 44 more that they have one year to save their jobs.

Richard A. DeColibus, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union, said the action marked the first time the board ignored friendships and political ties in deciding which principals to keep and which to fire.

LAST week California's Gov. Gray Davis pledged not to run for re-election if reading levels and test scores of California students did not improve under his first administration.

Davis, however, doesn't intend to walk the plank alone. If a school doesn't improve the performance of its students by 5 percent within three years, Davis said the state Board of Education will either shut down the school, make it a charter school, fire the principal or reassign teachers.

Here in Hawaii, inspired by our new superintendent, Paul LeMahieu, the state school board approved a standards-based school reform plan. The board envisioned a system that "holds each school accountable for meeting high standards of performance."

That sentiment may not be as tough as the reforms making waves on the mainland, but it does put Hawaii on track for both accountability and perhaps even a demand for excellence in education.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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